The Short Yellow Signal Problems Investigation Continues in St. Petersburg
by Matt Florell
Note: Before reading this, it would probably be a good idea to take a look at the last two reports on this subject:
- Short Yellow Signal Times in St. Petersburg
- Short Yellow Signal Problems Reveal Deeper Issues in St. Petersburg's Traffic and Parking Department
This update goes over what has happened in the last month and a half of
my investigation into the short yellow signal problems in St.
Petersburg, FL. Specifically, the topics of faulty traffic signal
controllers and the use of the grade of an approach in determining the
yellow signal length.
A lot has happened in the last month and a half on this matter,
including the January 16th, 2014 St. Petersburg PS&I(Public Services
and Infrastructure) Committee meeting. Both before and after the
meeting, this issue received a lot of press attention, with articles in
both major newspapers and on all major local network TV news programs.
In a WFLA NBC local news report we learned that Joe Kubicki changed his
story again on the use of slope, or grade, in the yellow signal
calculation, saying that his department had "used an older FDOT
Just days before that, they were still telling City Council members that
FDOT had "directed" the city to use only a 0% grade when calculating
yellow time in the city. I was also told this a week before.
Kubicki's story changed for a third time during the PS&I committee
meeting, saying that "we do not have the budget to survey the 22 camera
Two weeks later, my second public records request finally received a more definitive answer:
"There is no document or correspondence from FDOT that directs the city
to use an approach grade of 0% for the calculation of yellow time. In
the past FDOT staff have advise us that without any better information
to use 0%." and "the Traffic Signal Coordinator has assumed 0% was the
standard grade to use in this area of Florida."
So we have gone from a "directive" by FDOT, to an "old recommendation"
by FDOT, to "we do not have the budget" to do surveys, to FDOT telling
them that if they haven't bothered to survey just use 0%. That's 4
different stories in just one month's time, and none of them have any
documentation to back them up.
Let's examine the claims of not having enough money to do these surveys.
The one elevation and grade survey that I paid to have performed on the
Eastbound approach of 1st Ave. S. & 34th St. cost $600. I have
received an official quote from the same Traffic Engineering firm to
perform 21 more of those surveys, one at each of the other camera
approaches, and it would cost $11,900. The City has spend $152,680.54 in
the last 4 years on Kimley-Horn consulting studies to help justify and
analyze the optional red light camera program. There was no legal
requirement for the city to commission these Kimley-Horn reports. But
the city did have a legal requirement to calculate the yellow times
according to the ITE formula, which requires a grade measurement. So
they had money for those optional reports that cost over 12 times what
the grade surveys would have cost, but didn't have any money to perform
grade surveys at those intersections as required by state law? I don't
buy that excuse.
Now back to that earliest explanation given for this grade issue, that
FDOT had "directed" the city to ignore grade in yellow time
calculations. During the PS&I committee meeting, Councilmember Amy
Foster asked Joe Kubicki specifically why she had been told that FDOT
directed the city to ignore the grade of intersections. Kubicki
responded by complaining about me for a few minutes, but he never did
answer her question. Then committee chairman Dudley ended the meeting
because it had run over the available time. I did finally receive a
response to my second public records request on that supposed FDOT
directive, it is quoted above. There never was a directive from FDOT,
and they now blame the City's Traffic Signal Coordinator for ignoring
the grade of intersection approaches as part of calculating yellow
More on the PS&I Committee Meeting
One of the few good things that came out of the PS&I meeting was
that Kubicki had announced that based upon the survey I had done, they
had lengthened the yellow time at the Eastbound approach of 1st Ave. S.
and 34th St. by 0.2 seconds. Unfortunately, this was tempered by Kubicki
saying refunds for the city's mistake would not be forthcoming. That
prompted this column by Joe Henderson to appear in the St. Petersburg
Tribune a few days later,
The PS&I committee meeting was actually supposed to be about
increasing yellow signal times only, a report that Councilman Gerdes had
requested 10 months ago. But only about 15 minutes were spent
addressing this topic, and the committee was told that FDOT would not
approve raising yellow times above the minimums. The majority of the
time spent in the meeting was on the 2nd year red light camera update, a
report that councilmembers and the public didn't have enough time to
review before the meeting. It is unclear why Joe Kubicki decided to
present this report at this meeting without it being on the agenda and
without giving Council or the public time to review the materials. As
for me, I requested a copy of it through the City Clerk right after the
meeting, and it took over a week for me to receive it. I have posted it
here, and after a quick review there are a lot of things missing in this
report compared to the first year report. What isn't missing since last
year's report is a lot of mathematical errors, If you want to see a
middle-school math teacher cringe, just show them page 63,
St. Petersburg's second year red light camera report,
I'm not going to go over the issues with the red light camera program
and the second year update right now, that will be covered in detail in a
report I will release before the City Council Workshop later this week.
Acknowledgement of Short Yellows
On the subject of short yellow signals, On February 10th I had a meeting
with members of the Traffic Signalling Department, as well as Mike
Conners, Joe Kubicki, Michael Frederick, Councilman Gerdes, a
representative of the Police Department and two employees from
ATS(American Traffic Solutions), the city's red light camera vendor. The
purpose of the meeting was strictly to go over evidence of yellow
lights being shorter than the city had set them to, and the related red
light camera citations that were issued to people that would not have
received them if the yellow lights had been the proper length. The
presentation is available here,
After presenting citation videos that showed inadequate yellow light
times when going frame by frame, they admitted that there was clearly an
issue, and that the yellow lights were not the length that the city had
set them to in the examples I had shown, and that the citation yellow
signal lengths were in fact accurate. It should also be mentioned that
recently the police reviewers have been more closely watching the yellow
signal time on potential citations before approving them, which is why
this short yellow citation problem caused by equipment issues has
dropped off to nothing in the last several months. The issue of what to
do with people that had received those citations will have to be handled
by City Council. But, on that topic, at the same time I was in that
meeting in St. Petersburg, the city of Winter Park announced that it
will start refunding almost $90,000 in short yellow citations and
throwing out other unpaid tickets that were given out at short yellow
intersections in that city. So, we now have a precedent for a city in
Florida voluntarily refunding short-yellow red light camera citations.
A "Very Thorough Internal Investigation"?
Related to the short yellow investigation, I also had a public records
request in for all documents relating to the City's internal
investigation into the short yellow problem, where they concluded that
the citations and videos were wrong and their signal timing had always
been correct. After five weeks I received a response, "no documents,
notes, memos, or other recorded data was created" related to the
internal investigation. The department simply contacted the signal
contractor and they said all of the signals were operating within
acceptable tolerances. The City's red light camera vendor, ATS, was not
involved in determining that their citations and videos were faulty and
inaccurate, and it's clear that none of the available videos were
reviewed during the course of their investigation. I find it very
strange that a "very thorough internal investigation" as described by
Kubicki to City Council was neither "internal" nor thorough enough to
generate a single document, especially after I was told over a month ago
that staff was still "collecting the requested data" on this internal
investigation to fulfill my records request.
What Happens Next?
During the week of the PS&I meeting, I was able to speak to several
City Council members as well as Mayor Kriseman and his Chief of Staff
Kevin King. I was told that this issue isn't settled, and something will
be announced on this in the near future.
So, what happens next? Here in St. Petersburg on February 27th at 2pm,
the City Council will take on the topic of refunds for people issued
citations at intersections with short yellow lights, both zero-grade
short yellows and equipment-problem short yellows. I am sure this will
turn into a meeting discussing the entire red light camera program just
like the PS&I meeting, so it will be an important one to watch.
At the state level, there will be a lot happening this session in the
Legislature with new bills to more heavily regulate, reduce and/or
eliminate red light cameras, all being debated in the next few months.
Governor Scott has been non-committal on the subject of red light
cameras, but it is very likely that some kind of bill related to them
will arrive on his desk before session is over.
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